Former Penske Racing President Don Miller told Sirius Speedway yesterday that the teamwork displayed by drivers Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish, Jr., in Sunday's Daytna 500 is a significant improvement over the days when Newman and former Sprint Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace shared the stable.
"I'll be very frank with you," said Miller in an exclusive Sirius Speedway interview. "We struggled getting the cooperation between our two drivers a couple of years back, as you know. It was difficult, because even though you are in the same building and you've got two guys who really want to win, if they don't want to work together, it makes everybody's life a little bit more difficult.
"Over the past couple of years that Ryan and Kurt have been running together, they have built a really strong confidence situation as far as (saying), 'Hey, if I'm in a position to help you, you know I'm going to help you.' People that paid attention probably saw that quite a few times last year."
Newman echoed those thoughts in numerous post-race interviews Sunday; including one fairly awkward affair conducted in part by Wallace. The newly crowned Daytona 500 champion said he never could have win without the efforts of Busch, who he called, "a great teammate and a tremendous team player."
Miller, meanwhile, said he believes Sunday's victory is just the beginning for Newman and Penske Racing.
"I think they're going to be pretty tough all year long," he said. "We're making some really good power, and I think that the reliability is back. Looking at the tests that Kurt and Ryan completed in California and in Las Vegas, they both ran really, really good. So I think they're going to be pretty tough to deal with all year long."
Au Revoir, JV: It appears that Jacques Villeneuve’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career could be over, almost as quickly as it began. The former F1 World Champion has scheduled a press conference in Montreal tomorrow to announce his future plans, and sources say he will not return to the Bill Davis Racing #27 Toyota. Villeneuve failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 after crashing out of his Gatorade Duel qualifier, and has not been able to attract the sponsorship necessary to secure a full Rookie of the Year attempt. Now, he will reportedly announce plans to drive in the 24 hours of Le Mans in June, with options for a single NASCAR Nationwide Series start in Montreal, and a part time ARCA ride. Both are reportedly also contingent on sponsorship. Mike Skinner will drive the #27 BDR Toyota at California Speedway this weekend, with Johnny Benson also sharing time in the car this season.
500 Ratings Up: Sunday's 50th running of the Daytona 500 on FOX earned ratings slightly higher than a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research. The overnight numbers showed a 10.2 rating and a 20 share, with the broadcast averaging 17.8 million viewers. Both the rating and average were 1% better than a year ago, and overall, 33.5 million Americans watched at least part of the race. The Daytona 500 remains far and away the top-rated event in American motorsports; more than doubling last year's Indianapolis 500.
Rensi Skipping Races: Bobby Hamilton Jr. said his Team Rensi Motorsports team will skip the NASCAR Nationwide Series races in Mexico City and Montreal this season, due to lack of financing. Hamilton’s #25 Ford has sponsorship for 30 races, and the team expects to secure backing for three more. But in his words, “As of now, we’re not going to Canada or Mexico. The bottom line is, it’s not in the budget.”
No Camaro After All: Those of us who have fantasized about an all-new, Pony Car-based NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2009 may be in for a disappointment. Published reports this week say that Chevrolet has decided not to use its new Camaro in the Nationwide Series next season, after all. Richard Childress Racing built a new, COT-based Nationwide entry for General Motors to test in the wind tunnel recently, and the car reportedly carried an Impala body, and not a Camaro. Sources close to the GM camp say the Chevy Malibu is also under consideration for use in the Series.
Ford Motor Company is reportedly considering reintroducing the Ford Taurus for competition on the Nationwide Series next season, while Dodge is expected to use the Challenger. No word from Toyota, though speculation continues to center on the Toyota Solara as the make of choice.
Penalties Coming: Expect announcements later today on possible penalties for Nationwide Series rules violations discovered last week at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR officials confiscated the carburetor from David Reutimann’s #99 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, after finding oversized venturis that allowed more air to pass through. NASCAR also confiscated the rear deck and spoiler from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s #5 Chevrolet Thursday night, after discovering what sources say was liberal aerodynamic modification of those parts. NASCAR considered sending crewchief Chad Walter home for the offense, but opted to allow him to remain on speedway grounds. Nationwide Series director Joe Balash said further sanctions will be announced today.